Hellenism and the Unfinished Revolution

Fr. Eusebius Stephanou

The year 1821 saw a handful of valiant Greeks rise up in revolt against a mighty Ottoman Empire. Their only resources were faith in Christ and love of freedom. Twelve years of heroic fighting and bloody battles ended in the independence of a small part of Greece in 1833. It was only the beginning – not the end. The Revolution of 1821 remained unfinished. This exactly was the message of Apos­tolos Makrakis, modern Greece’s most illustrious prophet and thinker. This man of dauntless courage and literary genius devoted his entire life to the work of emancipating the Greek spirit from the slumber that lingered on after four-hundred years of Islamic Turkish oppres­sion.

Makrakis, however, was aware that internal strife and western secular influence were threatening to prevent the completion of the revolution. In his prolific writing and eloquent and forceful public speaking he exhorted his fellow countrymen to press on in the strug­gle to liberate their Greek brothers who still remained under Turkish rule in northern Greece, Asia Minor, and the islands.

These twenty eloquent speeches on the theme of the unfinished revolution of 1821 were delivered by Makrakis on Concord Square in the heart of Athens. He chose to begin them on May 29, 1866, because it marked the anniversary of the fateful capture of Constantinople by the Turks. These famous speeches appeared originally in the Greek under the title: ‘Twenty addresses on the Task of 1821: How It Can Best and Most Quickly Come to Completion‘.

A second edition was published in Athens the early 1960s. This present English translation comes as a new addition to the virtually com­pleted publication of all the writings of Makrakis in English trans­lation. By request of the publishers I have added the footnotes as helpful references or commentaries on the text.

In the following addresses to the Greek public Makrakis attempts to re-kindle the aspiration for the recovery of Constantinople and for a return to the universalistic ideals and principles of Byzantium. He speaks with inspiration about continuing the revolution for the liberation of Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, Crete, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and especially the once glorious center of Orthodox Christendom, Constantinople.

Conquest for Makrakis was not so much military gain, as it was spiritual and cultural expansion. He put little trust in the power of weapons and urged the Greeks to rely more on the power of faith in Christ. He was of the unshakable conviction that the God of Israel would answer their prayers and intervene if they would return to Him in repentance and in the re-consecration of their lives to His Gospel. As much as he was a realist and fighter, his faith was almost child-like in this regard. He was even accused of admonishing his fellow-countrymen to lay down their arms. The political leaders of the time misunderstood him.

Such remarkable faith as that which fired the soul and heart of Makrakis is typically expressed in the following statement which sums up very aptly the message of the whole book:

“If we follow Christ and become Christians in fact, as well as in name, God is bound to annihilate or humble our enemies and turn His mighty hand against them.”

As was always customary with Makrakis, he turns to Scripture to substantiate his conviction and quotes: ”Oh, that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries (Psalm 81:13).

These expressions are not mere rhetorical embellishments or emotional outbursts. As much as they may appear to be an over-simplification of brute facts, they, nevertheless, proclaim genuine per­sonal faith. in the promises of God. Makrakis never used eloquence simply to be ostentatious and as an end in itself, but rather to more effectively voice his heartfelt convictions and impart them to his listeners.

Since the Greeks possessed the unadulterated apostolic Faith. Makrakis believed that it was their calling to overcome the forces of Islam on the East (the ”anti-Christ Mohammed”) and heresy on the West (the “pseudo-Christ Pope”) and finally establish Orthodox Christianity throughout the entire world. Orthodox Greeks, like St. Paul, were called by God to go into all the world as ”a chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The message of Makrakis speaks not only to those of Greek descent, but to all Orthodox Christians who are Greeks by adoption. Hellenism does not denote simply one of the several ethnic groups included in the Orthodox Church. It is not a nationality. If Hellenism represented a way of thinking and living in antiquity, it does especially with Christian Greece. In the words of Will Durant, Greece is “the bright morning of that Western Civilization which, with all its kindred faults, is our nourishment and our life.”

But if Hellenism is “nourishment and life” to secular western society, how much more is it a sustaining ingredient to Orthodox Christians whether Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Yugo­slavian, Syrian, or Albanian. Byzantium shared the Christian Hellen­ism of Orthodoxy with the Slav peoples of the north and made them members of the Graeco-Roman Christian Civilization. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the beginning of an intellectual and spiritual stillness in Orthodoxy. But in 1821 Orthodox Greece continued where Byzantium left off.

It might seem odd to think that the Greek Revolution of 1821 could have any importance for our present day. Yet, the fact remains that it is not simply a historical event that belongs to the past. Indeed it is relevant to the Greeks who immigrated to this country, to their Greek-American offspring, and to all Orthodox in the United States irrespective of ethnic origin.

What significance could that seemingly political and military in­surrection have with us who are far removed from it in time and place? If Hellenism is to continue having a legitimate place in the framework of Orthodox thought, then the year 1821 must have some meaning even to us who live in the western hemisphere. It must have something to say to present day Orthodoxy. The special solemnity with which we observe such holy days as the feast of the Three Hierarchs (January 29) along with the “Week of Greek Letters” that follows and the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (March 25) demonstrates the importance we attach to Hellen­ism in the Church. Yet, we have really not understood the timeliness of these celebrations for Orthodoxy in America. We have not grasped their relevance for the modern day. Too many priests become stereo­typed in their sermons and festive addresses on these days. They speak of Hellenism in purely historical terms and appeal only to sentimental feelings.

We have really failed to find a message to proclaim for the modern Orthodox on these feast days. We speak of the synthesis of Hellenism and the Gospel which the Three Hierarchs and other Church Fathers achieved in the fourth century without relating this to the twentieth century Orthodox Christian. We celebrate the anniversary of Greek Independence on March 25 without making it relevant to these who are Americans by birth and education. It usually turns into a mere sentimental recollection of the stirring events connected with the valor which the Greeks displayed with the insurrection of 1821. Both of these holy days, however, can be excellent occasions for proclaiming the unity of life and thought, science and religion, faith and reason, as embodied in Christian Hellenism which has been. forgotten by the western world.

We live in a confused world. Modern man is disillusioned with both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism: The sense of certainty has been lost. Western man feels there is nothing left to rely on. Western history no longer provides the source of assurance for religious belief. There is no organic evolution in man’s apprehension of Truth. Something has gone wrong some place at some time in the course of Western Civilization.

If Christ is the unchanging Truth, then the medium of its con­tinuity is historical Hellenism. The Logos was made manifest during pre-Christian times in the philosophy of ancient Greece. Greece was the precursor to the Gospel, as Judaea was the tutor to Christ in the religious sphere. Greece is not only the cradle of western civilization, but she represents the continuum beginning from anti­quity and passing through Christ to our modern day. Greece is proof that there is purpose to history. Hellenism, centered in Constan­tinople, safeguards the reality of the continuity of authentic western Civilization from ancient times through the Christian Era to the modem day. The Orthodox theology of the Logos affirms that God was working in history and preparing from antiquity to disclose the fulness of the Logos to man. Greece is the only remaining assur­ance that there is progress both in the revelation of Truth and in the comprehension of that Truth: that history has direction; that human effort in the search for Truth is not futile.

The Revolution of 1821 indeed remains unfinished! It is a beginning -not an end. It is a call to the re-awakening of the universality and catholicity of Orthodoxy. It summons all Orthodox to vigilance against all outward and inner forces that threaten the integrity and purity of the Orthodox Faith. The Revolution of 1821 is essentially a spiritual revolution. It aims at the recovery of an Orthodox Civilization and its perfection. It looks to continuing where Byzantium left off.

During these critical days when western secular civilization finds itself almost at the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the words of Apostolos Makrakis speak to every Orthodox Christian whether here or abroad. Were the Greeks to have heeded his prophetic message while he was still alive, they would have been spared the humiliating defeats, failures, and tribulations that followed after 1833 and which have continued to this day. Constantinople and all of Asia Minor would have been recovered from the Turks and the western powers would have failed in their plan to restrict the re-birth of Orthodox Greece. Istanbul, presently almost totally de-Hellenized and bereft of all Orthodox populace, points tragically to the failure of the Greeks to respond to their historical destiny. “No prophet is received in his own country!” Had the Greeks listened to Makrakis, not only would Orthodoxy have been stronger within the boundaries of Greece, but it would have flourished in the Middle East. We would not have witnessed to the present decline of the ancient patriarchates. Ortho­doxy would not have suffered the severe reversals in that corner of the world which remain without parallel in her history.

The words of Makrakis are words of wisdom. They are rooted in Christ as the all-embracing Truth and to violate them is to invite disaster. Modern Greek history has proved this most tragically. Modern Greeks might profit from the mistakes of their fathers. It may not be too late. It is not fortuitous that Greece remains politically the only Orthodox nation which enjoys freedom from Communist rule and is free to work out her own destiny.

All Orthodox, whether Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, Syrian, or Albanian must love Greece, as children love their mother despite what shortcomings a mother might have. To slight Greece is to slight themselves. To disrespect Hellenism is to disrespect their own culture and heritage. And if the Greeks have not always proved themselves worthy of their own history, other Orthodox. should regard it as their privilege to champion the cause of Hellenism when and where the Greeks might have failed. Hellenism belongs to all Orthodox.

But those of Greek origin in America have a weightier task to accomplish, since they are closer to Hellenism. These inspiring discourses of Makrakis can help us make Hellenism more relevant to the Faith and to the needs of our critical times. Makrakis teaches us that Hellenism should be preserved because it belongs to all the world and is necessary to its ultimate welfare. What is worth perpetuating is worth sharing with all men. Otherwise, it is neither worth keeping for ourselves.

Department of Theology

University of Notre Dame,

South Bend, Indiana

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